Climate crisis: Shortage of water presents ‘existential’ threat to UK, government warned

Action needed to stop demand outstripping supply, says Environment Agency

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 19 October 2021 12:16
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Climate Change: COP26 might change our world

Hotter summers and less predictable rainfall as a result of climate change will create an increased risk of droughts and serious water shortages in the UK, the Environment Agency has said.

In a stark warning ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, the government agency said there had to be far greater focus on the threat to water supply as the country begins to feel the impact of the climate crisis.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of Environment Agency, said major investments are needed to avoid the so-called ‘Jaws of Death’ – the point on water companies’ planning charts where demand outstrips supply.

“Good water quality is essential – but the right water quantity is existential,” he said. “We need as much emphasis on the latter in the future as we have now on the former.”

Sir James added: “We know what to do to avoid those jaws: reduce demand, by using less water more efficiently; and improve supply, including by investing in the right infrastructure. That means we need to think strategically, radically and long term.”

The Environment Agency has estimated that summer rainfall is expected to decrease by approximately 15 per cent in England by the 2050s, and by up to 22 per cent by the 2080s.

Population growth and climate change will also increase the demand for water – meaning that if no further action is taken between 2025 and 2050, more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day will be needed for the UK’s public water supplies.

In a gloomy report handed to Boris Johnson’s government last week, the agency said more and worse environmental incidents – such as greater flooding and serious water shortages – are now inevitable in the UK.

In an “adapt or die” warning, the non-departmental public body has urged the government to focus on adaptation measures – claiming there are now just as important as action to cut carbon missions.

“However successful Cop26 is, it won’t stop the climate changing or all the effects of that change,” Sir James told the Royal Society on Tuesday.

“Because human activity to date means that some irrevocable climate change has already happened and that more will continue to happen, even if the world stopped all carbon emissions tonight.”

The Environment Agency chief added: “That is why as a nation we need to be climate ready – resilient to the future hazards and potential shocks that we already know will impact on all our lives.”

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